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Food & Drink

Blood sport: Count Dracula season brings out the beast in us

Ah, ’tis the season, the ha-a-u-u-nting season, when all things dark and Gothic and otherworldly come to play, as they did in a brilliant production of The Passion of Dracula I saw last weekend.

Huge bats skimmed the tops of our heads and crosses ignited in flames at the touch of the infamous Count as he sought his eternal bride.

I must have been a little bit hungry, as the sight of all that smacking of lips and drinking of fresh blood made me wonder…

Not! Excuse me while I get a grip, for normally you can’t get me in the same room as blood pudding, blood sausage, black pudding, boudin noir , blutwurst , or whatever you call the stuff when blood, usually pigs’ or cows’, forms the central ingredient of a fat and meaty sausage or “pudding” seasoned with herbs and glued together with a bit of oatmeal, barley or the like.

My husband, on the other hand, is Eastern European. No, not Transylvanian or Moldavian, but close enough with his Latvian/Polish bloodlines and his predilection to eat just about anything.

Blood sausage was part of his upbringing as far back as he can remember. He jokes that he thought if he brought a pal home from school and word got out that his mom served blood sausage at lunch he’d be accused of wearing black capes and sleeping in a coffin — and expelled from school (wishful thinking).

And so stands the great divide between those who will eat blood and those who will not. Personally, I do admit to a bit of a contradiction, as I recall enjoying the taste of my own blood as a kid when I licked a fresh paper cut or small scrape.

But the line in the sawdust on the butcher’s floor seems to be drawn between WASPs, and pretty much the rest of the world. I should say Canadian WASPs, for the Brits have long enjoyed black pudding as part of a traditional breakfast. In fact, the wee puddings have been elevated to something of a cultural phenomenon, as villages vie for best black pudding titles, and contestants swing ladies’ pantyhose filled with the stuff.

Then there are the Old World lifestyles, where getting the most from the farm animal was a given, and today’s lifestyles, where we package meats in black Styrofoam trays so we see nary a dribble of blood oozing out from underneath that New York steak.

But besides its nutritious value, blood can apparently be quite tasty. If you ask someone like my husband, for instance, what blood sausage is actually like, they rave about it. (Spicy and like a good sausage, he says, adding, get over it.)

And since the albumin it contains makes it thicken when it’s heated above 75 C, it has traditionally been used as a thickening agent in many a classic dish, including one we all enjoy and I ate more than once in France, coq au vin . In the “olden days”, it was also used to braise meat, especially wild game dishes.

Czechs and Slovaks also eat blood sausage, usually served fried. But then they also eat jiternice , a sausage made of lungs and liver, and you can likely hear my other Albertan WASPish repugnance over the thought of eating “pumps and filters” (organ meats).

Spaniards, Portuguese, Russians, Swedes, Finns, Koreans, Filipinos, Argentines — they’re all in on eating blood. Like I said, it’s pretty much us WASPy North Americans who don’t do the vampirical thing.

Where did it all start, this bloody sausage business? Who knows for certain. One source puts it in Greece, as Homer’s Odyssey refers to roasting a stomach stuffed with blood and fat. More likely the making of blood-based dishes sprang up serendipitously in a hundred locales at once as a natural way of using all the animal in pre-supermarket times.

All I can say is haunting season or no, I would be the last one in town to boil up a big kettle of fresh pigs’ blood — ugh — and toss in some oatmeal and herbs or spices. I’ll leave that to the experts, thank you very much.

In the meantime, I might even close my eyes and try a piece of that bloody sausage, cooked up well or fried, next time I cross one, though the Count, bless his black heart, may well have been onto something by keeping it all freshly flowing.

 

VAMPIRE EMPIRES

So where did the idea of Count Dracula and his vampiric world come from?

The idea of the undead harkens back to ancient Greece, just like the blood sausage itself. But the cult of vampires, one cultural theorist suggests, may have been linked to incidents of murder, violence or other acts of ne’er-do-wellishess in Eastern Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries.

If people suspected the culprits were ghosts, they may have gone to graves and unearthed the coffins of the dearly departed, like good old Uncle Piotr. With no scientific knowledge of the process of death, they would have unearthed coffins and beheld Piotr with long fingernails and long hair, both of which continue to grow after death, and a pale, white face with bright red lips. Very vampiric.

As for the concept of killing a vampire by driving a wooden stake through its heart, it would have seemed reasonable under the circumstances that, in order to prevent Piotr and like-minded corpses from rising up and wreaking havoc in the community, it would be a good idea to pin him down and keep him in his place, so to speak, with a big stake through the heart or otherwise.

The garlic part I’m not sure about, but maybe it just kept anybody away.

As for the swooning sexualization of tall, dark, handsome strangers, vampires, like Count Dracula, have long been acknowledged by cultural theorists as getting good purchase in Victorian England, when such handsome, elegant “outsiders” from Eastern Europe were sweeping women off their feet. Someone had to put those romantic interlopers in their place, and Irish writer Bram (Abraham) Stoker was in the right place at the write time to do it.

 

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning freelance writer who notes that the Hungarian word vampir may have originated from the Turkish word uber , meaning witch.




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